On this blog we often talk to school districts that approach learning in alternative ways. In this case, PSD’s Global Academy K-12 in Poudre School District based in Fort Collins, Colorado opted for a hybrid learning environment. With just over 200 students expected for next year, the school used to be a fully online school, but Principal Heather Hiebsch is working to increase hybrid learning options and give her students the best of both worlds. Online courses offer students flexibility and personalized learning, while the campus setting offers students support, community and opportunities for hands-on learning.
The curriculum is aligned to flow smoothly from online-at-home to in-class-on-campus. Younger grades use K12’s K-8 courses, while higher grades use a mix of FuelEd and in-house courses hosted on the district’s Blackboard system. Students work online three to four days per week and receive direct instruction on campus one to two days per week—not lectures, stresses Hiebsch—but those learning opportunities that are difficult to get online, like inquiry-based, hands-on projects, as well as community building. “We have several high schools that are over 2,000 kids each, and some of our students are just looking for a smaller environment. But it doesn’t mean they want to be alone or miss out on high school,” explains Hiebsch.
Online coursework is overseen by students’ at-home learning coaches (typically a parent), but students must also demonstrate mastery to their teachers. “Sometimes there’s a gap between what students can do at home and what they can do independently at school,” says Hiebsch. “We felt that blending allowed us to identify the holes faster and students to grow more.”
For high school credit, the school uses a combination of FuelEd curriculum and courses developed in-house. Online work is blended using their own teachers and Blackboard’s Learning Management System (LMS), with classrooms based in their physical school. The idea was to keep students engaged—the school even has a gym where students take physical education classes. “A lot of the early philosophy of online learning and credit recovery looked like 30 kids in a computer lab,” explains Hiebsch. “But the pass rate was really low because no one was engaging with the students, and these were typically the kids who needed the most support. We realized kids should be enrolled in credit recovery only after they’ve exhausted the other options and interventions.”
Interventions include behavior and academic support ranging from online programs to actual home visits by teachers, counselors and even Principal Hiebsch. Last year, the school created and piloted a research-based hybrid Response to Intervention (RtI) model to deliver and monitor highly targeted behavioral and academic interventions to students. “That model worked really well for us, but I don’t think it could have worked as well if we didn’t have the kids here on campus part of the time,” says Hiebsch.
Global Academy began as a credit recovery and dropout prevention program, with a five-year plan that included moving from fully online to a hybrid environment. During the program’s fourth and fifth years, blending was optional. But Hiebsch considered the blended environment so successful that she met with stakeholder groups that decided blending will be required for the upcoming school year—all students will be on campus twice a week.
“When we were fully online, the rate at which students moved between online and traditional school was so high we had almost no students return from year to year,” says Hiebsch. “The more blended we’ve become, the more kids stay with the school. We’re no longer a place where kids come while they’re trying to fix a problem and then go back to ‘real school.’ This becomes their school, and our community and results are strong.”
To learn more about the benefits of this hybrid model and different blended learning approaches, download this white paper from Getting Smart and FuelEd.